The Opinion of the Religious Authorities

Clearly, the values promoted through the production of dime novels did not accord well with the canonical image of the “Grande noirceur” (Great Darkness). But we must bear in mind that, in the 1940s and 1950s, many book collections, directed by priests, were devoted to keeping social and romantic behaviors in check: consider, for example, Éditions Fides’ first great success, the collection “Face au mariage.” Written by Gérard Petit and launched in 1941, this series consisted of 23 booklets of 32 pages, with titles like Mon fiancé, Ai-je le droit de plaire? or Le flirt. In 1962, the print run of this collection exceeded a million copies [1]. This means that the clerical authorities had not abdicated their power over the couple and the family. And the same held true for the other dime novel themes (adventure, detective mysteries).

 

Faced with a production that it judged illicit, the clerical authorities had two options: prohibition (censorship) or redirection of the readership toward better reading material.

 

On the one hand, in periodicals from the 1940s and 1950s, several priests – Paul Gay, for one – denounced the harmful popularity of crime comics and dime novels: François Hébert even cites a bitter exchange between the editor-in-chief of the Police-Journal paper and Monseigneur Valois, who apparently prohibited his congregants from purchasing “these magazines and papers that specialize in appealing to the sensuality of their readers, [as well as] these little dime novels that are in all the bookstalls.”[2]  However, neither the Québécois publishers nor the titles of the series are named in these denunciations: even Gérard Tessier, who published a list of so-called dangerous books and periodicals in his 1955 Face à l’imprimé obscène [3], avoids mentioning any of the titles of these collections. It should be noted that the dime novel editors made sure to not push the boundaries of the “morally acceptable” too far, and to provide, where possible, guarantees of proper conduct...

                                                                                              

On the other hand, to redirect the readership toward “good reading,” Éditions Fides launched their own collection of dime novels in 1947, titled “Amour et aventure” and distributed in the newsstands... It ended up being a dismal failure, for lack of interested readers.[4]

 

The inability of the clergy to curtail the success of the popular dime novels demonstrates the limits of their control.[5]  Sylvie Provost’s survey of readers of dime novels revealed that only 4% of respondents were prohibited or severely criticized for reading these works, [6] which clearly indicates that parents at the time were relatively unconcerned about the clerical influence over this production.

 

[1] See Jacques Michon, Fides. La grande aventure éditoriale du Père Paul-Aimé Martin, Montréal, Fides, 1998, p. 49.

[2] François Hébert, La littérature populaire en fascicules au Québec, Québec, Les Éditions GID, 2012, p. 31.

[3] Gérard Tessier, Face à l’imprimé obscène. Plaidoyer en faveur d’une littérature saine, Montréal, Éditions de la Feuille d’érable, 1955, 182 p.

[4] For more on this subject, see Marie-Pier Luneau and Jean-Philippe Warren, “Ce que le roman catholique fait au roman sentimental : le cas de la collection ‘Amour et aventure,’” COnTEXTES, forthcoming.

[5] See in particular Pierre Hébert, in collaboration with Élise Salaün, Censure et littérature au Québec, tome 2. Des vieux couvents au plaisir de vivre, Montréal, Fides, 2004, 258 p.

[6] Sylvie Provost, “Avez-vous déjà lu IXE-13, Albert Brien, Guy Verchères ?”, Études littéraires, vol. 15, no 2, August 1982, p. 150.

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